Industry response to COVID paves way to automated operations

June 1, 2021
There is still much to unpack and learn from the industry response to COVID.

There is still much to unpack and learn from the industry response to COVID. Many of the changes were rapidly implemented, short-term measures designed to protect personnel health and safety, and to protect business interests. While some have been and will be phased out, other measures are likely to be adopted permanently. One change that is likely to stick in some form is remote working. This includes personnel working from home; but for offshore personnel it also means remote operations, inspections, and maintenance.  

It is perhaps unfortunate that it took a pandemic to force these changes, but the results have been mostly positive. These include savings in work commute and travel costs, higher staff productivity, improved communication and collaboration among internal and external teams, and gains in safety and sustainability. Many companies are allowing employees to work from home permanently, and others are offering a hybrid approach with a mix of remote and office time. On the other hand, some studies have shown a significant strain on employee mental health during the pandemic. This impact can be especially acute for those in the remote rotational workforce who are prone to extended time away from family and friends. This is a serious concern that the industry is working hard to address.

Two recent webinar panels, presented by Offshore, explored the technologies and behaviors that are evolving in the wake of COVID. One of the webinars, organized by the Deepwater Operations and Topsides, Platforms & Hulls advisory boards, asked the audience for its take on what is most essential for the industry to adopt coming out of pandemic and economic hardships seen last year. The respondents selected “adopt long-term remote work,” followed by “industry collaboration for health-related emergency response.” The webinar panelists discussed how the events of 2020 are serving as a catalyst for advancing remote operations. The next step in the move toward full automation is effectively predicting, planning, and prioritizing maintenance activities, the panel suggested. To facilitate this, sensors and cameras are being installed on equipment to feed information to personnel for inspection and verification. Traditionally, some of this equipment was verified in-person. The industry is also using more drones, robotics, and underwater ROVs and AUVs for monitoring and inspections, and eventually for operations and maintenance.     

Most of the technology exists for automated operations, but behavior needs to change to accelerate uptake, the panel proposed. The webinar audience was asked as a follow-up for the expected percentage of operations that will be remote/automated by 2025. Survey respondents selected “about 25-50%” as their top choice.     

The industry’s response to COVID proves it can connect and operate remotely. But more work is needed in the areas of offshore inspection and maintenance, and a collective behavioral change could accelerate the implementation of fully automated operations.